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Coaching Carousel 2016: Cleveland Browns

A detailed look at the impact of Mike Pettine's departure and the hiring of Hue Jackson. 

INSTITUTIONALIZED INEPTITUDE

The Cleveland Browns are once again underoing major changes, as Mike Pettine and his staff were let go after two seasons in favor of Hue Jackson. The Jackson will be the Browns' sixth coach in ten seasons. The team hasn't had a winning record since 2007 (10-6 with Romeo Crennel at the helm).

A Decade to Forget (2006-2015)

  • Average Record -- 5.1 wins / 10.9 losses
    • 5 wins or fewer in 8 of 10 seasons
    • 8 last place divisional finishes
  • Average Points per Game -- 17.5
    • Average offensive ranking -- 27th of 32 teams
    • 27th or worse in 8 of 10 seasons
  • Average Points Allowed per Game -- 22.8
    • Average defensive ranking -- 18th of 32 teams
    • 17th or worse in 6 of 10 seasons
    • 20th or worse in 5 of 10 seasons

In Search of a Quarterback...

The Browns struggles can't fall exclusively on the shoulders of the coaches -- it's the players who play the game, is it not? In that sense, blame has to fall on the personnel department for being unable to find a quality NFL starting quarterback for the better part of this Millennium. Can you name the Browns leading passer over the last decade? If you guessed Derek Anderson, you would be correct. Anderson started 34 games for the Browns from 2006-2009. Did you realize though that Cleveland has had SIXTEEN (!!!) starting quarterbacks over the last 10 years?
 
FirstLastFromToGS
Derek Anderson 2006 2009 34
Colt McCoy 2010 2012 21
Brandon Weeden 2012 2013 20
Brian Hoyer 2013 2014 16
Charlie Frye 2006 2007 14
Brady Quinn 2007 2009 12
Jason Campbell 2013 2013 8
Johnny Manziel 2014 2015 8
Josh McCown 2015 2015 8
Seneca Wallace 2010 2011 7
Jake Delhomme 2010 2010 4
Ken Dorsey 2006 2008 3
Austin Davis 2015 2015 2
Bruce Gradkowski 2008 2008 1
Thaddeus Lewis 2012 2012 1
Connor Shaw 2014 2014 1

Enter Hue Jackson -- The Quarterback Whisperer?!?

In the annals of NFL history, few terms are more overused than "offensive genius" when it comes to coaches. Bill Walsh was a genius. Bill Belichick is a genius. The list of coaches deserving of that high a descriptor SHOULD be limited; yet you can't go a single offseason without seeing beat writers and NFL analysts throwing terms like "genius", "guru", "mastermind" around as though the league was full of true difference makers. I bring this up because Hue Jackson -- the Browns new head coach -- is often called a genius and/or a quarterback guru. Is that reputation justified?
 
YearAgeLevelEmployerRole
1987 22 College Pacific Graduate Assistant
1988 23 College Pacific Graduate Assistant
1989 24 College Pacific Graduate Assistant
1990 25 College Cal State Fullerton Running Backs/Special Teams
1991 26 World League London Monarchs RBs/WRs/Special Teams
1992 27 College Arizona State Running Backs/Quarterbacks
1993 28 College Arizona State Running Backs/Quarterbacks
1994 29 College Arizona State Running Backs/Quarterbacks
1995 30 College Arizona State Running Backs/Quarterbacks
1996 31 College California Offensive Coordinator/QBs
1997 32 College USC Offensive Coordinator/RBs/QBs
1998 33 College USC Offensive Coordinator/RBs/QBs
1999 34 College USC Offensive Coordinator/RBs/QBs
2000 35 College USC Offensive Coordinator/RBs/QBs
2001 36 NFL Washington Redskins Running Backs
2002 37 NFL Washington Redskins Running Backs
2003 38 NFL Washington Redskins Offensive Coordinator
2004 39 NFL Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receivers
2005 40 NFL Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receivers
2006 41 NFL Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receivers
2007 42 NFL Atlanta Falcons Offensive Coordinator
2008 43 NFL Baltimore Ravens Quarterbacks
2009 44 NFL Baltimore Ravens Quarterbacks
2010 45 NFL Oakland Raiders Offensive Coordinator
2011 46 NFL Oakland Raiders Head Coach
2012 47 NFL Cincinnati Bengals Secondary
2013 48 NFL Cincinnati Bengals Running Backs
2014 49 NFL Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator
2015 50 NFL Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator
2016 51 NFL Cleveland Browns Head Coach

Key Notes from Jackson's Career

  • College Career -- Jackson coached Jake Plummer at Arizona State and Carson Palmer at USC, which speaks to his ability to get college quarterbacks ready for the NFL (many college coaches ran "systems" that weren't NFL-friendly)
  • Washington OC Role (2003 -- Ranks: 22nd total points, 21st passing yards, 13th passing TDs) -- Jackson got his NFL start under Marty Schottenheimer and was retained by Steve Spurrier; serving as the team's offensive coordinator in Spurrier's final season. The team had little success with Patrick Ramsey at quarterback, although this offense was more under Spurrier's umbrellas than Jackson's
  • Atlanta OC Role (2007 -- Ranks: 29th total points, 18th passing yards, 20th passing TDs) -- Jackson joined Bobby Petrino's staff as offensive coordinator in 2007 but was again star-crossed as he thought he was going to coach Michael Vick, but ended up coaching Joey Harrington (Vick was suspended). Meanwhile, Petrino resigned 13 games into the season and the team was in disarray from top to bottom
  • Oakland OC & Head Coach (2010-11 -- Ranks: 6th ('10) and 16th ('11) total points, 23rd ('10) and 11th ('11) passing yards, 25th ('10) and 18th ('11) passing TDs) -- Jackson was Tom Cable's offensive coordinator in 2010 and the team had some success offensively, although it was mainly because of the dominant run game. Jackson was promoted after Cable's firing and lasted one season as the team regressed. Jackson dealt with a combination of Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller, Bruce Gradkowski and Carson Palmer over those two seasons
  • Cincinnati OC Role (2014-15 -- Ranks: 15th ('14) and 7th ('15) total points, 21st ('14) and 15th ('15) passing yards, 22nd ('14) and 11th ('15) passing TDs) -- Jackson's perceived success with Andy Dalton played a huge role in his landing the Browns job. While it's true the offense improved under his watch, the passing game never reach top tier status

Can we really say Hue Jackson has been a difference-maker for quarterbacking? I don't see the evidence. Sure, he mentored two future NFL starters in college, but that's not enough. As an NFL coach, other than last year when Dalton set career marks in passer rating, completion rate, TD% and INT%, I ask which quarterbacks were better under Jackson than other coaches? Now Jackson has to rebuild Robert Griffin's confidence, and hope he stays healthy.

Overrated as a QB Guru, But Not As a Running Game Coordinator

I have issues with Jackson's reputation as a quarterback savior, but his ability to foster a strong ground game is undeniable.

Rushing Game Rankings (Jackson as RB Coach/OC/Head Coach)

YearRush RankRuYds RANKRuTDs RANKYPR RANK
2001-WAS 4 8 20 18
2002-WAS 15 13 23 12
2003-WAS 22 22 26 20
2007-ATL 29 26 28 20
2010-OAK 4 2 2 2
2011-OAK 7 7 7 7
2013-CIN 8 18 13 28
2014-CIN 5 6 2 12
2015-CIN 7 13 4 23
Average 11 13 14 16

You might be asking why I'm willing to give Jackson credit as a running game coordinator when his career averages are decidedly outside the Top 10. Simply put, because the more control he's been given the more success the running game has achieved. In his early stints in Washington and Atlanta, he had two megalomaniacal offensive coaches (Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino) in charge, Jackson was trying to execute their visions. In Oakland and Cincinnati, he had a much heavier hand in game-planning and execution. The results speak for themselves. When Jackson has a say, he FIRMLY believes in running the ball with aplomb.

SUMMING UP -- WHAT THE BROWNS OFFENSE WILL LOOK LIKE

Hue Jackson isn't the product of one particular system -- he's the mash up of 30 years coaching in multiple systems. He worked in Air Coryell systems, particularly under Steve Spurrier. He spent time in classic West Coast offenses under Paul Hackett and Steve Mariucci. He learned run-heavy, ball control styles from Marty Schottenheimer. In essence, he's seen just about every system and figured out what works for him. As one might expect from someone with Jackson's varied experience, he prefers to tailor his play-calling to suit his team's personnel versus trying to fit square pegs into round holes. With that said, there are certain traits a successful Jackson offense has that we can expect to see:

  • Vertical Passing Attack with West Coast Terminology -- Jackson favors West Coast terminology but he's a fan of testing opposing defenses vertically.
  • Power Running -- The Browns mixed zone and gap blocking last year, but Jackson prefers gap schemes predominantly.
  • Balanced Run/Pass -- Assuming the defense can play well and the offense can generate yardage consistently, Jackson will want to have a balanced offense that veers a bit from the pass-heavy play-calling that's become the NFL's norm
  • Pre-snap Adjustments -- Jackson believes in keeping defenses on their heels by making pre-snap adjustments. That was not Robert Griffin's strong-suit in Washington, so this will be a key test of "building the offense to fit the players"

Jackson will call his own plays (he didn't name an offensive coordinator), but he has a number of seasoned play-callers on his staff including Al Saunders and Pep Hamilton. Skeptics will argue that Jackson's coaching achievements are mundane relative to his reputation. I would argue that he's been a victim of some bad luck, catching on with coaches who were on their way out (Spurrier, Schottenheimer, Petrino, Cable). What's clear is Jackson is widely respected by his peers and his opponents, is well regarded by his former players, and was able to field an experience, veteran group of assistants. Ultimately whether that's enough to reverse Cleveland's history of ineptitude remains to be seen, but enthusiasm should be high entering training camp.


Ray Horton's Plans For The Defense

Hue Jackson hired Ray Horton to run the defense, which was a surprising move considering Horton served as the Browns defensive coordinator for one season in 2013 -- when the team finished 4-12. Yet, Jackson believes Horton is the right man for the job and is basing that view on Horton's experience (2 Super Bowls as a Steelers assistant) working under Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh followed by two successful years as the defensive coordinator in Arizona. Horton utilizes a scheme similar to the Steelers with lots of zone-blitzing, but Horton believes in varying his fronts. We'll see lots of looks ranging from a base 3-4 (the classic look in this scheme) to 4-3 to 4-4 depending on game script. Horton has a TON of work to do as the Browns are coming off a horrible season defensively:

  • 29th in points allowed
  • 27th in yards allowed
  • 29th in TD passes allowed
  • 17th in rushing TDs allowed
  • 31st in yards per pass attempt
  • 27th in yards per rush attempt

Horton -- like Jackson -- needs the horses to change this offense. The team will need early contributions from rookies Emmanuel Ogbah (DE), Carl Nassib (DE) and Derrick Kindred (FS) along with free agent additions Demario Davis (LB) and Rahim Moore (SS). Horton is also talking about making sure 2nd year Danny Shelton is on the field more this season.